Nine years ago, the Gorospe family began serving their unique mix of Filipino-Hawaiian food from their Hula Truck. It quickly expanded to concession stands at SAP Center and Levi’s Stadium, along with a regular gig at the Shoreline Amphitheater. In March, the family opened a restaurant in downtown San Jose.
But no matter the location, one constant is the lumpia, traditional Filipino deep-fried spring rolls filled with spiced ground pork and water chestnuts, handmade by 76-year-old matriarch Myrna Gorospe.
“When we started, mama was making about 500 lumpia a week,” co-owner Ryan Gorospe told San José Spotlight. “Now, on good days, she rolls about 3,000 to 4,000. At events like 49er’s games at Levi’s, if we have 6,000 of them, we can get rid of all of them.”
The idea for the brick-and-mortar location came about as a response to the pandemic, which completely shut down the venues where the Hula truck had been successfully established.
“The idea came in organically,” Gorospe said. “A lot of things were happening and we kind of pivoted in a different direction. I was looking for a kitchen to support Levi’s and the SAP Center, and we just fell in love with the building here.”
The idea for the business came to Gorospe after eating at food trucks three to four times a week.
He said, “I have something different that people may want (to eat), and I believe I can do this.” So when Gorospe lost his job, he cashed in his 401K and bought his first truck.
With no formal training in cooking, Gorospe relied on what he had learned from his mother while growing up. He cooked for his siblings and took care of them while his parents worked.
With help from his wife Angela and sister and co-owner Pamela Gorospe, Ryan began developing a menu that reflected the family’s Filipino heritage.
Several dishes are based around lechon, a crispy traditional Filipino slow-roasted pork belly. It is available as a rice bowl, as tacos, tossed with lime and served with salsa, as sandwiches and as lechon sisig sauteed in garlic, soy and lime served on a sizzling platter.
“These are things that my mom would make for us on weekends, so it’s really nostalgic for me,” said Pamela. “It’s just amazing to see other people enjoy it and they love it just as much as I do.”
The owners, who enjoy vacationing in Hawaii, reflect that cuisine in their menu, particularly in their poke bowls, nachos and salads, all made with Ahi tuna seasoned with soy, sesame oil and a housemade spicy sauce.
Besides providing a staging kitchen for the rest of their operation, the Hula Bar has given them a chance to expand their menu beyond what could be offered by a food truck or concession stand.
The Kalua Pig, pork shoulder that has been roasted for more than 14 hours, is a popular addition to the menu, as is the garlic shrimp, cooked in lemon and butter, or chicken adobo stewed in soy sauce, garlic and cane vinegar.
For more whimsical cravings, the Hula Bar offers some food truck staples, including the Bayrito, a burrito filled with tater tots, pico de gallo, meat and shredded cheese, or Da Situation, where the same ingredients are served in a bowl.
“We have a lot of food truck customers who have been following us since the beginning,” Pamela told San José Spotlight. “It’s amazing to see them come here, enjoy the restaurant, and have a drink at the bar. We’ve seen some of them grow with their families and now they bring their kids here.”
The bar part of the Hula Bar and Kitchen stocks some unusual options as well, including Alvarado Street Brewery’s Mai Tai IPA and Foxtail Fermentation Project’s Viva Cultura Red Corn Lager. You can also order guava, pineapple or pomegranate mimosas.
“We want to make this place happen,” Gorospe said. “We want to make our mark in downtown San Jose. And Mama keeps telling me to keep the business going because if she doesn’t roll lumpia, she’s going to get old.”
Contact Robert Eliason at [email protected].
Editor’s Note: The Biz Beat is a series highlighting local small businesses and restaurants in Silicon Valley. Know a business you’d like to see featured? Let us know at [email protected].